Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twenty-Four Sittings with Tarbell

"Reverie" by Edmund Tarbell

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Second Lesson of Carolus-Duran

Understanding Your Subject
There are two methods of understanding a subject. It may be treated heroically or intimately. In the latter case the artist enters into the life of the personages that he desires to represent, observing them as human beings; as it were, following them; taking account of their impressions, their joys, and their sufferings. The heroic manner, on the contrary, expresses but an instant of their life, when raised to an exceptional pitch. The personages represented are, as you might say, deified, so much do they seem to be absolved from the daily necessities of humanity. But, for this very reason, they lose many sympathetic charms that we only find in beings living, thinking, and suffering like ourselves. The latter alone can move us, because we find our own experiences in their melancholy, their terrors, their passions. The heroic method, necessarily restricted, is obliged to impose upon its personages a sort of conventional grandeur that suppresses the better part of their originality.

Duran's Point Illustrated by Tiepolo's Series of Etchings, "The Flight into Egypt"
In the subject that now occupies us, let us take our personages at their starting point and accompany them thorough the different episodes that must have marked their precipitate flight. You all know the legend. Joseph is warned in a dream that the time has come to quit Judea with the Virgin Mary and the Divine Child. Picture to yourselves the incidents of this departure. See the group precipitately leaving in the night; follow them hour by hour; imagine the scenes that must have followed one another, at the morning fires, in the glimmering twilight, in the moonlight, or under the bright light of day.




Tiepolo has made, in thought, this journey as I have indicated it to you; he has pictured these episodes; very many of them are most touching and very delicately felt. He has portrayed the solitude of a hamlet during the night; the holy travelers are crossing it hastily, not daring to trust themselves to any hospitality. Then, farther on, they arrive on the banks of a river that must be crossed. Angels push the boat, and, father on, the Virgin Mary is supported by them as they climb a steep ascent. *

You are not to imitate Tiepolo, nor to bear in mind his compositions; but you must proceed like him. It is the only way to avoid the commonplace — the only way to find charmingly intimate scenes; the child Jesus crying, smiling, or being nursed by his mother. The travelers have rested in the shade, as you might have done; they have had in their flight a crowd of emotions, such as you may have felt in your journeys. Call us your remembrances and apply them, so that the personages may be before your eyes, moving, walking, resting, forming a whole with the nature that surrounds them and of which they reflect the influence.

This sympathy that has made you live in thought with your subjects has shown them to you in varied circumstances, under the numerous effects of light, shade, or twilight. Choose one of these effects — that one of which you have kept the clearest and the most vivid remembrance. Your group must harmonize with the hour, solemn or cheerful, that you have chosen. As you are very different from one another, your compositions will reflect the variety of your natures.

This habit of living with your personages will have the effect of presenting them to your mind under a fixed form. Having followed and analyzed all their actions, all their sentiments, you will in the end know them as if they were real things. It will appear to be the remembrance of an actual scene.
Do not hurry to place this vision on canvas. Turn it over in your mind, that it may be refined and completed at every point of view. It is only when you have thus mentally elaborated your composition, that you should decide to execute it; for then you will have lived it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The First Lesson of Carolus-Duran

Lessons to My Pupils: First Lesson

Is Painting simply an imitative art? No; it is, above all, an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even the masters who were most absorbed by outward beauty, being influenced by it according to the sensitiveness of their natures, understood that they neither could not ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color. Thus it happens that these masters have interpreted nature, and not given a literal translation. This interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work.

This shows how dangerous are those schools that, restricting the artists to the same methods, do not permit them to develop their individual feeling. These schools, however, make use of a very respectable motto: “Tradition.” But what are we all but the result of tradition? — only we ought to be free to choose in the direction that agrees with our aspirations, and not have imposed upon those of another man, however great he may be.

In the French school, since Ingres, the tradition comes from Raphael. That was very well for Ingres, who freely chose the master from whom he really descended; but we who have other needs, who desire reality — less beautiful, without doubt, but more passionate, more living, more intimate, we should search a guide amongst the masters who responds most fully to our temperament.

Imagine the painters of the seventeenth century in Spain, Flanders, or Holland obliged to follow in the footsteps of Raphael instead of the inspiration of their individual genius! What would have become of their reproductions? Instead of Velasquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Teniers, Ostade, and Brauwer, we should have a lot of would-be Raphaels, counterfeited, stunted, and grotesque, a commonplace and disheartening plagiarism substituted for their sincerely and extremely varied chefs-d’oeuvre.
 
The example that I have just given you in the past has a singular application at present, when the same causes are producing the same disastrous results. It is as absurd to attempt to impose on artists one and the same mold in which all — powerful or weak, impassioned or timid — must form their thought, as it would be to constrain them to modify their physical natures until all should resemble a given model. Art lives only by individual expression. Where would we be if the great masters of all times had only looked to the past — they who not only prepared, but made the future? 

Works of art can only be produced by the recalling of our aspirations and experiences. To live one’s work is the condition, the sine qua non, of its power and of its truth. 
 These principles apply not only to “compositions,” but also to the painting of portraits, which many wrongly believe to be another art, because the greater part of portrait painters have only represented the visible form of their subject. If we study the masters that are looked upon as first in this order, we shall see that they have not been contented with the material appearance, but that, putting themselves aside, they have sought the particular characteristics of the model — his mind and his temperament as well as his manner. To place all one’s models on the same background is like serving all kinds of fish with the same sauce.

We will review some of those who, right or wrong, have come down to us as types: Holbein, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Van Dyck. Which if these painters best agrees with the ideas I have just expressed? Among the persons painted by Holbein, Velasquez, and Rembrandt, there is not one that does not seem to be known to you intimately. You exclaim, in spite of yourself: “I feel as it I knew him — what a good likeness it must be! Each has his own individuality apart from the habits and plastic tendencies of the painter.

"Portrait of a Man" by Velazquez

"Charles de Solier, Sieur de Morette,"
by Holbein the Younger

Titian, in spite of his admirable works in this art, is a transition between these first and those less close in their portrayal of the individuality of their subjects.

"Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve" by Titian

Raphael, in his love for beauty and harmony, only heeded the model posing before him as far as it coincided with his ideal. In all his portraits we see Raphael; but it is impossible to disengage the precise individuality of the person portrayed.*

"Baldasarre Castiglione" by Raphael

In Van Dyck it is yet more noticeable. He has painted commoners and nobles, giving them all the same style, the same elegance, that sprang from his own taste and graceful personality.

"Martin Ryckaert" by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
This necessity of self-abnegation, indispensable to the portraitist, is the only thing that separates the portrait from composition. 

I will leave to Ingres, who did wonders in this direction, and to Delacroix, who really was unable to make a portrait, the task of saying to which of these two genres supremacy belongs — if supremacy there be. Ingres said that only the greatest masters had made true portraits. Delacroix wrote, with a sadness that one feels between the lines, that 
"Portraiture is the most difficult thing in art. I myself believe that each offers different but equivalent difficulties, the placing on view of one person being as complex as that of ten. In a picture you must draw all from your own soul, your remembrance of the phenomena of nature and your feeling toward nature, your past joys and griefs."
"Louise de Broglie, Countess d'Haussonville" by Ingres
*M. Duran, we think, will not find many to agree with him in so sweeping a condemnation of Raphael’s portraits. Editor.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In the Atelier of Carolus-Duran

(from Will H. Low's book "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900)

The Beginning
Carolus-Duran by his student, John Singer Sargent

From the enthusiasm of a youth from Boston, Robert C. Hinckley, now a successful portrait painter in Washington, the atelier Duran had its birth. Mr. Hinckley, arriving in Paris with the intention of studying art, had been greatly impressed by Duran's work and sought his instruction as a private pupil. M. Duran declined to admit a pupil into his private studio, but offered, if Hinckley would find a room nearby and work from life, to visit him and correct his work occasionally.

This he did, and before long a second applicant for the privilege of study was referred to Hinckley by the master, soon followed by others. When I joined the atelier there were eight or ten pupils, perhaps half being French, and in the years following the number rose to forty, the majority then being English or American.

The official language of the school remained French, however, a placard announcing a fine of ten centimes for each word of a foreign tongue.


A Radically Different Method of Instruction
Carolus-Duran in His Studio

The ordinary methods of instruction in art divide drawing from painting, and further subdivide drawing into drawing from the plaster cast and from life. The evident reason for thus attacking the problems of artistic production is not to confuse the student with form and colour at the same time.

The disadvantage of such a method lies in the danger in after work of continuing this subdivision and producing tinted drawings instead of the fully coloured, freely drawn products of the brush, which is the final instrument of the painter.

It is equally evident that by giving the neophyte the task of reproducing in colour and form the ever-changing living model his difficulties are multiplied manifold. But this is more or less unknown to the unpracticed beginner, and the charm of arriving at once at the point held in reserve during long years of study in other schools overbalances any feeling of timidity which he may have.

The struggles of one who cannot swim and who is thrown into deep water are nothing, however, compared with the floundering in colour and shapeless form which characterize the first studies according to this method.

Hence there were frequent departures from our ranks, and many a defeated painter found it expedient to become an humble darughtsman int he ahlls of anitque scupture of the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

The grave M. Bouguereau was quoted as asking one of our comrades, "Does M. Duran ever make you draw?" and Ingres's axiom that drawing is the probity of art was repeated to us on all occasions by students of rival ateliers solicitous of our welfare.

However, this method of study has its advantages. It keeps ever present in the student's mind the final end to be attained, and the incessant use of the brush, with its implied rendition of form and colour by masses and planes which exist before his eyes, rather than by the point and masses of black and white tones which are the necessary conventions of the usual method, gives him a mastery of his tools which is superior, and is absolutely logical.

Joined to a sincere and stimulating enthusiasm as a teacher, our master showed great perception and consideration for the individual temperament of his pupils; and I have known him to recommend diametrically opposite courses to different men, as he judged might be useful to one or the other.

Few of the ateliers of the time have turned out men of more renown today in the various branches of art.

Organization of the Atelier


The atelier was organized on a democratic basis, all students paying a certain amount each month, which went for the expenses of rent, heating, and the hire of models; our master giving gratuitously, in the service of art and in gratitude for similar gratuitous instruction received in his youth, his services two mornings of every week.

This was no light sacrifice of the time of a busy portrait painter, and later the service given was increased by visits to our own studios when we were preparing pictures for the Salon, when he was ever willing to counsel and help us.

The internal government of the studio was vested in our massier, one of our now well-known painters in New York occupying that monitory position, and ruling us with an energy on a par with our openly expressed disregard for all rule.

Our Models
The models were chosen by vote, and I can remember a long succession of these faithful servitors of art coming week after week, taking their positions on the platform for our judgment in the intervals of repose of the model from whom we were working.

We had a model of long experience who had posed for this or that picture or statue in the Louvre, who criticised our inexperience in posing a model or deplored our modern distaste for the conventional pose, "which was given me, Messieurs, by no less a person than Monsieur Ingres in 1856!"

We had Pere Gelon, the Pere Lambert (who, dying, left all his little fortune for the benefit of young painters entered in the competition for the Prix du Rome, in order that they might employ models as much as necessary), the brawny Schlumberger, and the Herculean Thullier, and others, whose names were familiar to all students at that time in Paris.

Many were the tales these veterans told of the great men they had served, and eager listeners were we, who strove to follow in their footsteps. But to them all, the precariously paid servants of a precarious trade, a figure painter would be ill inspired if he did not feel a sincere good fellowship and hearty gratitude.

Some of the older models, as I have said, were filled with the traditions of their glorious past, and I call to mind one of our comrades who, having made a study for an ambitious composition representing Alexander ordaining the burning of his palace at the termination of a feast, called upon Pere Gelon as the model for his principal figure.

But after a long and careful inspection of the composition sketch, Gelon nobly refused to take the pose therein indicated. "Not thus," quoth the Pere Gelon, "does a king ordain the burning of his palace, but in this manner," giving a pose inspired by the "Oath of the Horatii" by David.

"The Oath of Horatii" by David
And in no other way would he pose, and the submissive artist was forced to accept the hackneyed attitude; not at all to the advantage of his picture.

Paul Foinet, Supplier of Materials
Paul Foinet
Paul Foinet's Art Store on 94 Rue de Notre Dame, Paris
Another figure which rises from the memory of the old atelier is Paul Foinet, known as "Van Eyck," from his fancied physical resemblance to the early painter of that name. Paul was the colourman who every Monday morning appeared in the ante-room of the atelier with a supply of colours, brushes, and canvas of the required sizes, for our academic studies.

A Norman of the most indefatigable good nature, Paul, in the highest favour of us all, was then in the employ of another, but many of us have lived to see and rejoice in his establishment as a dealer on his own account. He would shoulder his heavy box of colours and trudge to the different studios of his clients, where, with a cheery word, not disdaining a bit of gossip, he was always welcome. Extending credit virtually unlimited, he and his wife  amassed a little fortune with few bad debts, though in many cases they have had to wait long for the settlement of an account.

I have known Madame Foinet to hire a studio, supply materials and pay for models for a young artist of talent, and many our our young girl compatriots have reason for gratitude to this kind woman, who has seen to getting fitting lodgings, and has counselled them wisely in their ignorance of custom, to say nothing of selling them honest colours on long credits. They number, not as clients merely, but as friends, many of the most eminent Fresh artists, and the writer feels justified in this digression to describe two of a class of Old World tradespeople for whose character and position we have no counterpart here.

Studio Shenanigans

Our revolutionary atelier was one of the quietest places of study in Paris. It is certain that work was unrelenting and no one was sufficiently proficient in his task to spare time for play.  But if a little riotous conduct found favour, one of my old comrades must remember that on one occasion after an attempt at modeling in clay in the Atelier Duran, there had remained a large sponge immersed in a bucket of clay-stained water.

One morning, as one of the men had gone into the ante-room for some purpose, my friend took this sponges and, seated on a high stool before the door, announced loudly his intention of "letting him have it" when he entered.

The door opened, and he flung the sponge. But it was not the comrade; it was our master, brave in the blue velvet coat and yellow silk shirt which he then affected. The aim was true, and for a horrid moment no one knew what was about to happen. Then the master withdrew, closing the door after him, and another time of suspense followed, no one speaking, and the unwilling culprit seeking his easel in sheer despair.

Then the door reopened, and the master, his disorder repaired by the aid of our friend who had remained in the anteroom appeared, and by a few sensible words brought the guilty to a stammering apology and an assurance that the unlucky sponge was intended for a fellow student.

Our master, upon occasion the very embodiment of high-strung pride, won our hearts that day by proceeding quietly with the lesson, and left us with an added measure of respect for him.

I remember keenly the helpful and frank criticism we gave each other, and I realize that in the common emulation and effort at the attainment of the same object lies the chief value of atelier work.

The criticisms of a master are of great value, but are necessarily general in character. The example of he, who by your side is doing perhaps a little better than you in rendering the task before you, constitutes the little step of progress which you can hope to make. Velasquez shines on a height far above you, unattainable, yet the first round of the ladder has been cleared by Sargent at your side - surely I may use my old comrade's name, even in his present eminence, in this connection - and you may follow.
John Singer Sargent (1880), Fellow Student with Will Low **

Many of our men, before a year after the atelier opened, had made such progress that our master's principles were vindicated, and though, in the four or five years where I was a more or less diligent student, I never made a study that seemed to me worth keeping. I have since realized how much I owe to my studies in the Atelier Duran.

The Annual Dinner
Soon after the first of the year the annual dinner which the atelier tendered our master took place. This year a number of the students of Duran had united to express their enthusiasm for the master by a poem which was sung in his presence at dinner.

Their general theme was the exaggerated comparison of our master to the great painters of the past. Italy had her Titian, Spain her Velasquez, while each verse ended with the antistrope "but France has Carolus-Duran!" The conviction with which three of our comrades lined up at the piano, where a fourth played the accompaniment, sang these laudatory couplets might have touched a heart of stone, but with some of us they merely stirred our sense of humour.

We, too had a song. Of this I can remember but one verse, though I think it had more.

Esquivant les lois de la construction;
Nous mettons dans nos fonds,
des couleurs tres frappantes;
Ne dessinant jamais, jamais nous ne finissons;
Pour nous la nature n'est qu'une tache,
Et Carolus-Duran!

Les eleves de Carolus-lus-lus-lus,
Les eleves de Carolus-lus-lus-lus,
Les eleves de Carolus-lus-lus-lus,
De Carolus-Duran, avec un D!

(translation)
Avoiding with intent the laws of construction;
In our backgrounds we use the most violent colour.
We never draw - much less do we finish;
For us nature is only a spot - and Carolus-Duran!

The pupils of Carolus-lus-lus-lus
The pupils of Carolus-lus-lus-lus
The pupils of Carolus-lus-lus-lus
Of Carolus-Duran, spelt with a D!

(Just a note about the last line of the song, "Of Carolus-Duran, spelt with a D". On the door which opened to the atelier was inscribed "L'Atelier des Eleves de Monsieur Carolus-Duran." Their was some mysterious student who found pleasure in adding a "d" to "Duran" which transformed it into a name which is as common as "Smith" is to us. This was done so regularly, and was something that Carolus-Duran would not have liked, that one of the massier's tasks was to erase it before the master's visit.)

After Years
There were men in Duran's who drew well and have since continued to do so, and despite the heresies of our youthful career in the estimation of academical Paris, few of the ateliers of the time have turned out men of more renown today in the various branches of art.

It was our privilege a few years ago, on the occasion of a visit to this country by M. Duran, to assemble in New York, without going farther afield than Boston, a round dozen of his former pupils at dinner at one of the clubs. Most of us were sufficiently mature, and more or less known, but we were all heartily glad to join in rendering honour to one whom whom we owed so much.

His pupils included John Singer Sargent, Ralph Wormeley Curtis, Kenyon Cox Theodore Robinson, Mariquita Jenny Moberly. Mariette Leslie Cotton, Maximilien Luce, James Carroll Beckwith, Will Hicok Low, Paul Helleu, Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson and Ernest Ange Duez. Of his twenty-five most notable students, the majority were English or American.

*In the Studio of Carolus-Duran - an account of Duran's instruction in pdf form
** Thanks to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art for the use of this photo.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jean-Francois Millet


Excerpts from "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will H. Low

The Millet house, its gable to the street and its entrance through the garden wall, by which it was joined to the studio, was a structure of a single story, picturesque and cozy enough in appearance. I remember at the time thinking it an ideal home for an artist, but from a modern hygienic standpoint, rheumatism and perhaps graver ills lurked in its recesses. 


Millet's House in Barbizon, France

It was, and has remained, a memorable day when the green gate into the garden was opened to me for the first time by Francois Millet. Entering, I turned to the left toward the studio. The son hurriedly explained to me that his father was suffering from one of the headaches to which he was subject, but had insisted on rising from his bed to receive the young American student.


Jean-Francois Millet
Naturally I drew back and protested against intrusion on his father at such a time; but, as I spoke, the elder man advanced. He was of large frame and tall stature, the eyes of an artist deep set with the frontal bone well developed, a strong and prominent nose and abundant beard, which did not entirely conceal his mouth; firmly drawn yet gravely kind in expression.

Clad in a knitted coat, not unlike the cardigan jacket which was familiar here at one time, closely buttoned to the waist, and well-worn trousers, his appearance was that of the peaceful provincial in France who, secure from the public gaze behind his garden wall, dresses for ease and comfort. The legend of the peasant's sabots worn by him has only this much of truth, that in the heavy dews on the plain, or in bad weather at any time, he wore sabots out of doors, as most country people do in France; as a foot covering that, after a little practice, is not difficult to walk with; which protects from dampness, and is easily slipped off on entering within doors.

Between my timidity, the little French I possessed, and the master's evident suffering, our first interview began badly enough; my chief preoccupation being to find an excuse for withdrawing quickly.

But as it progressed the interest of Millet grew as he would display, from canvases stacked against the wall, pictures in various stages of progress. There were many of these, for it was his habit to begin many things, often as a memory of something he had seen would arise, and lay them aside to be taken up and carried further, then laid aside once again as his interest was given elsewhere.

His method almost invariably was to indicate a composition lightly in charcoal, seldom, at least at that time, having recourse to nature, and never from a model posing; his work from life consisting generally in a strongly accented drawing almost in outline.

When the composition was finally arranged to his satisfaction, he drew in the figures and its principal lines using a thick quill pen with ink. Upon this, with semi-transparent colour, he would prepare the principal tones of his picture. A canvas thus prepared he would set aside to dry, returning to it later with more direct painting in opaque tones, gradually refining its colour and rendering its effect to the point of completion.
The Shepherdess, 1863 by Millet
I remember questioning to myself, although I warmly approved of the result, if the means employed by this great painter were those which were thought consistent with the best modern practice. Slavish adherence to nature was then and after the watchword of the school, and, as many do, I confounded the practice of the school with that of the mature artist, forgetting that in one learned the handling of the tools, and that the other represents the result of such study in the production of the master craftsman.

Some question of this kind I ventured to make, asking how in the studio lighted by a single window he could study the model as the figure would be lit out-of-doors.

For reply he showed me a drawing, a mere quick-sketch, as I fear even other zealous fellowers of Gerome, among whose pupils I was numbered at the time, would not have hesitated to judge; but now, to my better understanding, appearing, as I remember it, to have the indication of all the essential construction of the figure that the master, with his knowledge of form, needed to work from.

The answer to my question appeared to me, however, enigmatic: and Millet, speaking slowly and with much emphasis, explained that a figure arrested in movement and with muscles relaxed demanded at the best on the part of the artist a memory of the appearance of the figure in action; that for him the weary imitation of a posed model seemed less true, less like nature, than to follow a hasty sketch with added truths garnered from a long and close observation, aided by the memory of the relation between a figure and its background under certain effects of light.

The Sower, 1851

Millet said: "You tell me that you are in the Atelier Gerome. There, or wherever you work, think only of rendering the model as truthfully as you can. It is by such practice that you will familiarize your eye to see and your mind to retain the construction and the proportion of the human figure, and later on you will be able, through such knowledge to be the master and not the slave of the chance individual model who serves you, and give to your work the typical rather than the accidental character of nature."

"Spring" at the Musee d'Orsay, Paris

During all this time my glance had rested from time to time on what was evidently a large picture on an easel covered by drapery thrown over it. At length Millet asked me to step back. He removed the drapery, allowing the light from the window to fall directly on the picture, and a surprising thing occurred.

Ever since I have had consciousness of life, I believe that I have been looking at pictures. No picture has produced upon me the exact effect of that which I then saw. I looked out on a plain with apple trees in blossom, on either side of a tortuous road which ran to high woods in the distance. The plain was in mingled light and cloud shadow, and the wooded distance, strongly illumined, showed bright against a clearing storm sky, a portion of which was traversed by a rainbow.

The picture is well known, is now in the Louvre, where on many occasions since I have studied it with continuing admiration, but with no trace of the amazing sensation I experienced on that day. For then I did not realize that it was a painted canvas.

As a picture, it has little of the photographic realism with which many painters have endowed their work. Nor was my feeling exactly that of looking on a real scene, so much as that I was, by the magic of the painter's art, lifted out of myself and made to realize the poignant sensation of the reawakening of nature int he spring. My words probably convey but little meaning, and I can only say that I was so moved, so shaken in my entire being, that I made at the time no effort to describe my feeling to the painter, as, barely able to control my emotion, I left him.

I have since endeavoured to explain to myself this episode, unique in my life's experience, by the plausible reason that throughout the afternoon, in my tense desire to follow from one beautiful work to another the great painter's intention, I had fairly surrendered all my sentient nature to his effort. When at the last this masterwork was shown me, the method of its production faded before my mind, and the evocation of the spirit of the scene alone remained.

Another Visit

"Young Shepherdess" at the MFA in Boston
In the few remaining weeks of my stay that summer, I saw the master twice more - once in his son's studio where there was a large picture, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which was left unfinished at his death. It is a life-sized figure of a young peasant girl with distaff hanging loosely in her hands, her head upthrown, shaded by a large straw hat in dark relief against a luminous sky.

To my exclamation that for a figure of this size he must surely have used a model, the patient artist jestingly assured me that the only direct study of nature was of a tuft of grass int he foreground, "which I plucked in the field, brought into the studio, and copied," with an insistence on the last word.

Before returning to Paris at the end of the summer, I again sought Millet. This time for advice to resolve a question which had an important bearing on my future, and which was presented in so flattering a manner that it was most tempting; though my better reason sought strength to put it aside by confirmation from Millet.

Advice on Studying Art from M. Millet

When Will Low talked about the possibility of abandoning his schooling with Gerome, Jean-Francois Millet observed: "What would you think of a poet arrested in his composition by a question of grammar? The school affords the easiest way of continually studying from nature. The casts from the antique statues stand still for you to learn the structure of the human figure. The models, trained as they are, are almost equally in the same manner at the disposition of the student, who must laboriously acquire this knowledge."

Look at the antique, study the masters in the Louvre to see what these men have done with the knowledge which they have gained by their study - the elements of style, the suppression of detail which is detrimental to the typical character which you must endeavour always to bear in mind when you are trying to make a picture. When you are making a study in the school, copy slavishly all that is individual, even that which you may think ugly and from the accumulation of such information as you gain of the varieties of the human form, you will learn what will best serve you when you wish to express your own individual view of nature." And with a wiser head, though perhaps not altogether a lighter heart, I prepared again to take up my studies.

The Conclusion

I have been thus explicit in relating this incidents in detail, because I believe that it may prove useful. Our habit of arriving at results quickly works no greater havoc in any department of our national intellectual effort than in our art. The many brilliant debuts of American painters in the past generation and the rarer confirmation of their promise is sufficiently marked.

It is not, I believe, the American artist, taken as a type, so much as his environment that is at fault. Parents and influential friends begin with the neophyte in the student stage to demand prompt results, and our public is for the most part indifferent to the slow progress by which a definite expression is achieved. As quickly as an artist has shown, in early and immature work, the possession of talent, he may be extravagantly lauded.

If he is a man of parts, he affronts new endeavour with the laudable desire to deserve his success, and by earnest effort produces work retaining his first qualities and adding other; only to be accused of 'repeating himself.' Baffled - with the knowledge that Raphael, Velasquez, e tutti quanti [and everyone] made no other progress than by repeating themselves with continual added qualities - he is pushed aside, and the fickle public turns to the newcomer with its welcome - and most necessary - encouragement, reserving the right to dethrone him in turn, and so on to the end of the chapter.

Happy the land that knows that art is long, and happy the man who, like Jean Francois Millet, lives his life in full acceptance of this truth, and, with the unceasing industry of the coral-insect, adds day by day the essential quota to his life fabric.


"A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will Hicok Low, free and online: https://archive.org/details/achroniclefrien01lowgoog

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jules Bastien-Lepage and His Art

French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) has captured the hearts of many people with his rustic scenes and sensitively painted work. Quite often friends will mention how his "Jeanne d'Arc," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has stopped them in their tracks holding them spellbound. Bastien also became a leader in the Naturalist school as he pulled his subject matter primarily from the countryside around his hometown of Damvillers, France. 

Recently I ran across a captivating biography written by his good friend and author Andre Theuriet entitled, "Jules Bastien-Lepage and His Art: A Memoir." I have excerpted those things about him that interested me the most for this blogpost - beginning with the beginning...

The Early Years
Jules Bastien-Lepage was born at Damvillers on November 1, 1848, in a simple, well-to-do farmer's house, the front coloured yellow, the shutters gray. His father was a sensible, industrious, methodical man; the mother a woman of truest heart and untiring devotion, and Grandfather Lepage, formerly a collector of taxes, had now found a home with his children. They lived on the modest produce of the fields which they themselves cultivated and on the grandfather's small pension. Jules' father required that his son should draw with pencil on paper the various articles in use upon the table - the lamp, the jug, the inkstand, etc. It was to this that Bastien-Lepage owed that love of sincerity, that patient seeking for exactness of detail, which were the ruling motives of his life as an artist. The dream was to educate Jules for a position in an administrative career, and by great sacrifice they were able to send him to the College of Verdun." But he was soon astonishing his master there with his great drawing abilities. One thing led to another till finally Jules told them he wished to be an artist.

Portrait of the Artist's Grandfather, 1874
at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice, France
The Bastien-Lepages held a family council. The grandfather considered Jules' desire to study in Paris hazardous and shook his head. The mother was frightened above all at the dangers of Paris and the life of privation to be undergone there, but, conquered at last by the persistency of her son, she murmured timidly, "Yet, if Jules wishes it..."

He obtained a position with the post office in Paris and studied off hours at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. But doing two things well was too difficult. He quit the post office. So his mother went to work in the fields. With an additional annual allowance voted him by his region, he was able to study with Cabanel and sent his first picture to the Paris Salon in 1870. It went unnoticed - and then the Seige of Paris came. He was wounded and spent time recovering back in his village.

He returned to study in Paris. Entered the Salon in 1872. No attention was paid to his work. Then in 1874 he entered a painting of his grandfather in the open air, in the little garden which he loved to cultivate. He held on his knees his horn snuff-box and his handkerchief of blue cotton. His blue eyes twinkled with humour; the white forked beard spread itself over an ancient vest of the colour of dead leaves. The public was delighted. He won a third-class medal and success.

Introducing Jules
Jules Bastien-Lepage

A mutual friend introduced Lepage and myself to each other. I saw before me a young man, plainly dressed, small, fair and muscular. His pale face with its square determined brow, short nose and spiritual lips, scarcely covered with a blond moustache, was lighted up by two clear blue eyes whose straight and piercing look told of loyalty and indomitable energy.

There was roguishness as well as manliness in that mobile face with its flattened features, and a certain cool audacity alternated with signs of sensitiveness and sparkling fun and gaiety.

Jules Enters the 1875 Paris Salon

Portrait of Simon Hayem, 1875

The Communicant, 1875
In 1875 Bastien-Lepage reappeared in the Salon with "La Communiante" and the portrait of "M. Simon Hayem," two excellent works which gave, each in its way, a new mark of his originality. The portrait of M. Hayem was best liked by men of the world.

Artists were most struck by "La Communiante." This young girl's simple awkward bearing, ill at ease in the white gloves, is a marvel of truthful painting. It is interesting, as being the first of those small, lifelike, characteristic portraits in a style at once broad and conscientious.

The Prix de Rome

I remember as if it were yesterday that July morning when the gates of the Palais des Beaux Arts were opened, and the crowd of eager inquirers rushed into the hall of the competition for the Prix de Rome. The subject chosen for 1875 was taken from the New Testament - L'Annunciation aux Bergers (The Annunciation to the Shepherds) - and Jules Bastien-Lepage had joined in.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds
Julies Bastien-Lepage, 1875
After a few minutes Bastien's picture was surrounded, and a buzz of approval arose from the groups of young people gathered round that work, so real, so strongly conceived and executed that the other nine canvases disappeared as in a mist.


The artist had understood and treated the subject in a manner utterly different from the usual style of the Academy. It was familiar and touching, like a page of the Bible. The visit of the angel had surprised the shepherds sleeping by their fire in the open air; the oldest of them was kneeling before the apparition and prostrated himself in adoration; the youngest was gazing with half-closed eyes, and his open lips and hands with fingers apart, expressed astonishment and admiration. The angel, a graceful figure with childlike almost feminine head, was showing with outstretched arm to the shepherds, Bethlehem in the distance surrounded by a miraculous halo.

Most of those who saw this work of Lepage declared that he would carry off the Prix de Rome with a high hand. Yet the jury decided otherwise. It was an older and more correct competitor who was sent to the Villa Medicis at the cost of the State.

An excerpt from a letter by Jules Bastien-Lepage after his loss of the Prix de Rome in 1875: "I learned my business in Paris, I shall not forget that, but my art I did not learn there. I should be sorry to undervalue the high qualities and the devotion of the masters who direct the school. But is is my fault if I have found in their studio the only doubts that have tormented me?"

Return to Damvillers
Bastien's Mother
 I went to join Jules Bastien-Lepage in September at Damvillers. Thanks to him, I saw with a very different feeling the town that formerly I thought so dull. Cordially and hospitably received in the house on the corner of the great square, I made the acquaintance of the father, with his calm, thoughtful face; of the grandfather, so cheerful in spite of his eighty years; of the mother, so full of life, so devoted, the best mother that one could wish for an artist. I saw what a strong and tender union existed between the members of this family whose idol and whose pride was Jules.

We set out along with one of my old friends and the painter's young brother. For a week we walked with our bags on our backs through the forest country of the Argonne, going through woods from Varennes to La Chalade and from Islettes to Beaulieu.

The weather was rainy and unpleasant enough, but we were none the less gay for that, never winking when the rain came down, visiting the glass-words, admiring the deep gorges in the forest, the solitary pools in the midst of the woods, the miles of green and misty avenues at the foot of the hills.

Jules Bastien was always the leader. When we arrived at our resting place in an evening, after a day of walking in the rain, he almost deafened us with scraps of cafe-concert songs with which his memory was stored. I seem still to hear in the dripping night that voice, clear and vibrating, now silent for ever.
     
Plans for Paintings
As we went along he told me of his plans for the future. He wanted to tell the whole story of country life in a series of large pictures: hay-making, harvest, seed-time, the lovers, the burial of a young girl. He also wanted to paint a peasant woman as Jeanne d'Arc at the moment when the idea of her divine mission is taking possession of her brain; then, a Christ in the Tomb.

Together we made a plan for publishing a series of twelve compositions: Les Mois Rustiques (The Months in the Country), for which he was to furnish the drawings and I the text.

"Les Bles Murs," 1880, at the Musee de Guezireh, France
 
From time to time we stopped at the opening of a wood or at the entrance of a village, and Jules would make a hasty sketch, little thinking that the wild and simple peasants of the Argonne would take us for Germans surreptitiously making notes of their roads and passes. At Saint Rouin, while we were looking on at a Pilgrimage, we had nearly been taken as spies. I have told this story elsewhere. The remembrance of it amused us for a long time.

The Death of Jules' Father
Jules Bastien-Lepage had scarcely been six weeks at Damvillers again when he lost his father to pulmonary congestion. Death entered the house for the first time, and it was a rude shock for a family where each loved the other so well.

"We were too young to lose such a good friend," he wrote to me, "In spite of all the courage one can muster, the void, the frightful void is so great, that one is sometimes in despair. Happily remembrance remains, and what a remembrance it is! The purest that is possible. He was goodness and self-abnegation personified. He loved us so! What is to be done? We must try to fill the void with love for those who remain and who are attached to us, always keeping in mind him who is gone, and working much to drive away the fixed idea."  

Theuriet's Portrait 
Andre Theuriet, 1878
Jules' studio was very large and simply furnished with an old divan, a few stools and a table covered with books and sketches. It was decorated only with the painter's own studies and a few hangings of Japanese material. I used to go there every morning at this time to sit for my portrait.

I used to arrive about eight o'clock to find Jules already up,but with his eyes only half awake, swallowing two raw eggs to give himself tone, as he said. He already complained of stomach trouble and lived by rule. We used to smoke a cigarette and then he began to work.

He painted with a feverish rapidity and with a certainty of hand quite astonishing. Sometimes he would stop, get up and roll a cigarette, would closely examine the face of his model and then, after five minutes of silent contemplation, he would sit down again with the vivacity of a monkey and begin to paint furiously.

The portrait, sketched in during the snows of January, was almost finished when the apricot tree began to put on its covering of white flowers in April.  

Painting "Les Foins"
"Les Foins (The Hayfield), 1877
Immediately after the opening of the Salon, Bastien packed up his baggage and fled to Damvillers to prepare for his great picture 'Les Foins (The Hayfield),' which occupied him all the summer of 1877, and of which he gave me news from time to time.  

July's news: "I shall not say much about my work. The subject is not yet sufficiently sketched in. What I can tell you that I am going to give myself up to a debauch in pearly tones: half-dry hay and flowering grasses, and this in sunshine looking like a pale yellow tissue with silver threads running through it. The clumps of trees on the banks of the stream and in the meadow will stand out strongly with a rather Japanese effect." 

15 August: "Your verses are just the picture I should like to paint. They smell of the hay and the heat of the meadow. If my hay smells as well as yours I shall be content. My young peasant is sitting with her arms apart, her face hot and red. Her fixed eyes seeing nothing. Her attitude altogether broken and weary. I think she will give the true idea of a peasant woman. Behind her, flat on his back, her companion is asleep with his hands closed. And beyond, in the meadow, in the full sun, the haymakers are beginning to work again. I have had hard work to set up my first ideas, being determined to keep simply to the true aspect of a bit of nature. Nothing of the usual willow arrangement with its branches drooping over the heads of the people to frame the scene. Nothing of that sort. My people stand out against the half-dry hay. There is a little tree in one corner of the picture to show that other trees are near, where the men are gone to rest in the shade. The whole tone of the picture will be a light grey green." 

September: "Why didn't you come, lazy fellow? You would have seen my Hay before it was finished. Lenoir, the sculptor, my neighbour liked it. The country people say it is alive. I have little more than the background to finish." 

Les Foins' was sent to the Salon in 1878.. It had a great success though it was warmly discussed. In the hall where it was placed among the pictures which surrounded it, this picture gave an extraordinary sensation of light and of the open air. It had the effect of a large open window. This picture of life in the fields, so carefully studied, so powerfully rendered, had a considerable influence on the painting of the day. From the time of this exhibition many young painters, many foreign artists especially, threw themselves with enthusiasm into the new way opening out by Bastien-Lepage, and, without intention on his part, the painter of the Meusian peasants became the head of a school.
  
Look Ma, I'm a Success!
Jules Bastien-Lepage's success, both artistic and monetary, was secure. His first care was to let his friends at Damvillers join in his good fortune. He brought them to Paris in the summer of 1879. He took his mother to a large shop and had silks for dresses spread out before her. "Show some more,' cried he, "I want Mama to choose the best!" And the poor little mother, frightened at the sight of black satin that could stand upright of itself, in vain protested that 'she would never wear that.' She was obliged to give way.

He took his grandfather through the avenues of the Bois and the principal boulevards, expecting that he would be delighted, but in this direction his zealous efforts failed utterly. The old man remained indifferent to the splendours of Parisian luxury and to the scenery in the theatres. At the opera he yawned openly, declaring that all this commotion was deafening, and he went back to Damvillers determined that they should never take him away again.

To England and Back
After his family's visit to Paris, Jules Bastien-Lepage set out for England where he painted the Prince of Wales. Decorated in the following July, he hastened to Damvillers to show his red ribbon to his friends and also to go on with the work he loved best.

His idea was to paint Jeanne in the little orchard at Domremy at the moment when she hears, for the first time, the mysterious voices sounding in her ears the call to deliver her country. To give more precision to the scene, Bastien wished to show through the branches of the tress the 'blessed saints,' whose voices encouraged the heroic shepherdess.

In this I differed from him. I maintained that he ought to suppress these fantastic apparitions, and that the expression of Jeanne's face alone should explain to the spectator the emotion caused by the hallucination to which she was a prey. I reminded him of the sleep-walking scene in Macbeth.

The doctor and the chamber woman, I said, do not see the terrible things that dilate the pupils of Lady Macbeth, but from her face and gestures they know that there is something terrible. The effect is only the greater, because after having perceived this, the imagination of the spectator increases it. Suppress your phantoms and your picture will gain in sincerity and dramatic intensity.

Painting "Jeanne d'Arc"   

"'Come," he wrote to me, about the 15th of September. '"My picture is getting on, and getting on well; all, except the voices, is sketched, and some parts are begun. I think I have found a head for my Jeanne d'Arc and everyone thinks she expresses well the resolution to set out while keeping the charming simplicity of the peasant."
Jeanne d'Arc (detail) by Bastien-Lepage

Jeanne d'Arc
Also I think the attitude is very chaste and very sweet, as it ought to be in the figure that I want to represent, but if I am to see you soon, I prefer to leave you the pleasure of surprise and of the first impression of the picture. You will judge of it better and you will be able to say better what you think of it.

Jeanne d'Arc appeared in the Salon of 1880 but did not produce all the effect that Jules expected. The picture had its enthusiastic admirers, but also passionate detractors. The critics attacked first the want of air and of perspective; then, as I had foreseen, the voices represented by three symbolical personages, too slightly indicated to be understood, and yet too precise for apparitions. But the public did not do justice to the admirable figure of Jeanne.

The rapid and brilliant success of the young master had ruffled the amour propre of many. They made him pay for these precocious smiles of glory by undervaluing his new work. He had hoped that the medal of honour would be given to his Jeanne d'Arc. This distinction was given to an artist of talent, but whose work had neither the originality nor the qualities of execution, nor the importance of Bastien's picture. He felt this injustice strongly and went to London. There the reception and appreciation of English artists and amateurs consoled him a little for this mortification.

 
An Unfinished Work
His stay in London and the reading of Shakespeare had inspired him with the idea of painting one of the heroines of the great poet, and in 1881 he went back to Damvillers full of a project for painting the Death of Ophelia."

The unfinished painting

In a letter on August, 1881, he wrote, "I have begun and already advanced a large picture of Ophelia. I think it will be well to do something as a contrast to my Mendicant (Beggar). It is to be a really touching Ophelia, as heartrending as if one actually saw her.
The poor distracted girl no longer knows what she is doing, but her face shows traces of sorrow and of madness. She is close to the edge of the water leaning against a willow; upon her lips, the smile left by her last song; in her eyes, tears! Supported only by a branch, she is slipping unawares. The stream is quite close to her. In a moment she will be in it.
She is dressed in a little greenish blue bodice and a white skirt with large folds; her pockets are full of flowers and behind her is a riverside landscape. One bank under trees with tall flowering grasses and thousands of hemlock flowers, like stars in the sky; and in the higher part of the picture, a wooded slope, and the evening sun shining through birches and hazel bushes. That is the scene.
This picture was never finished. The landscape and flowers were rendered as the artist wished, but the face and the costume of Ophelia recalled his Jeanne d'Arc too much. Bastien-Lepage no doubt saw this, and for this reason put the picture on one side to return to his peasants.  
 
The Diner de l'Est
We [Jules Bastien-Lepage and Andre Theuriet] were both members and even founders of an Alsace-Lorraine dinner, the Diner de l'Est, which was always given in summer in the country. One of the last meetings at which he was present, took place a the end of May, 1881.

A boat had been engaged, which was to take the diners to the bridge at Suresnes, and to bring them back at night. When we arrived at the landing stage, a blind man was standing by the footbridge, attended by a young girl, who held out her sebilla to the passers-by. 

"Come, gentlemen! all of you, put your hands in your pockets!" gaily commanded Bastien, and he passed over first, preaching by example. And the eighty or a hundred guests of the Diner de l'Est passed one after another over the footbridge, each one leaving in the child's sebilla [a wooden receptacle] a coin, large or small." 

"The Mendicant"

When we were on the deck, Bastien turned round to look at the blind man and his girl, who were amazed at this unexpected windfall and were slowly counting their money. "What a lovely group," he said to me. "How I should like to paint that child!"

 Painting "L'Amour au Village"
Muffled in a warm jacket and a travelling cloak that covered him [Jules Bastien-Lepage] down to the feet, he made his models pose for him in the piercing days of February, in the little garden where he had already painted the portrait of his grandfather.

In March the work was well advanced and he invited me to go and see it at Damvillers before it was sent to the Salon. Our hosts were awaiting us on the doorstep. Around them Basse the spaniel and Golo and Barbeau were bounding and barking joyfully to give us a welcome. The next morning, early, we went up to the studio to see L'Amour au Village," which was to go to Paris that day.

"L'Amour au Village"
The subject of this picture is well known. The daylight is waning. At the gate of a village garden a lad of twenty, who has been binding sheaves and still wears his leggings of leather, is talking with a young girl. What he is saying may be guessed from his awkward manner twisting his stiff fingers and also from the attentive but embarrassed air of the young girl. There is in this picture a true and manly poetry, which is stengthening and refreshing, like the odour of ripe corn."

Bastien was glad to have completed this difficult work, and his satisfaction enable him to bear with cheerfulness the pains in his loins and the digestive troubles which were becoming more and more frequent.

Last Days
And now we sadly cross the threshold of Jules Bastien-Lepage's final time on earth. The slow decline is recorded in his letters, such as "This is to let you know that I am not a stay-at-home, as you might think. I find it important to walk a good deal, for in this way I regain a little health. My stomach was beginning to get wrong, but it is better!" But a mutual friend told Andre Theuriet, "Our poor Bastien is very ill. They think it is hopeless."

In the midst of all this, the Arabs, of astonishing calmness and splendid carriage, under their earth-coloured and ash-coloured draperies. They all wear a shirt and burnous, not one is like another. It seems as if each one gave expression to his thought by his manner of draping his garment.

It is once more the triumph of blank truth over arrangement and conventionalism. The sorrowful man, whether he wishes it or not, in spite of himself is not draped like the gay. Beauty, I am convinced, is exact truth; neither to the right nor to the left, but in the middle.

"Moonrise in Algiers"

 The improvement he [Jules Bastien-Lepage] had experienced on arriving in Algiers ceased about the end of April. His strength and his appetite gradually failed, and at the end of May it was decided to take the invalid back to France. He settled again in the Rue Legendre with the poor little mother, who never left him afterwards. When I saw him again I was shocked at the progress the disease had made. His thinness was such that my unhappy friend was nowhere in the garments that were made for his journey. His legs refused their service; he could no longer work.

For months this cruel agony was prolonged. On the 9th of December during a great part of the night, he talked of Damvillers with his mother and his brother. Then at about four in the morning he said to them with a kiss, "Come, it is time for children to sleep." Two hours later asked for something to drink, then shortly afterwards slid gently from sleep into death. He expired at six in the evening, December 10, 1884.

On the 12th of December a long train of friends and admirers accompanied his remains to the Eastern Railway Station. The next day, Sunday, the whole population of Damvillers waited at the entrance of the town for the funeral carriage. The sad procession advanced slowly on that road where the painter had loved to walk with his friends. A pale mist blotted out those hills and woods whose familiar outlines he had so often reproduced.

The cortege stopped before the little church where he had intended painting his "Burial of a Young Girl." The morning was showery. The wreaths and festoons of flowers were helped up upon the grave where they seemed to come to life again, and to send out with their renewed perfume a last adieu from Paris to the painter of the peasants of the Meuse.          

Bastien's Grave in Damvillers. Statue by Rodin.
 
*The above is excerpted from Andre Theuriet's biography, "Jules Bastien-Lepage and His Art. A Memoir." The entire book is free and online for the reading at https://archive.org/details/julesbastienlepa00theu

** There are several videos showing Bastien's work. Here is one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPAUmkI0xcQ